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Women take centre stage at the National Arts Council

As South Africa celebrates Women’s Month throughout August, the National Arts Council (NAC) continues to empower a wide range of women working in all aspects of the creative industries nationwide. Of the R17 million awarded by the NAC this year, over one-third went to women-led projects in the fields of theatre, dance, music, visual arts, craft, literature and multi-discipline.

Says NAC CEO Rosemary Mangope, “As we celebrate the central role played by South African women during the month of August, the NAC’s focus on empowering and upskilling women across all arts fields continues. Central to our mandate is the importance of facilitating strong leadership roles for women of all ages within the creative industries, where their voices continue to be under-represented. We are proud of the progress we have made in this important sector to date and the NAC will continue to work towards empowering the current and next generation of women during Women’s Month and throughout the year, not just in SA but on the African continent and worldwide.”

Mangope highlighted just a few of the female-led projects currently being funded by the NAC. In the field of theatre Ntshieng Mokgoro is staging a two week Women’s Theatre Festival in Johannesburg in October 2015. The founder of Olive Tree Theatre Productions, Mokgoro aims to both encourage women to take centre stage in writing and directing their stories, and also to take on more central roles in the administration of theatres around the country. The two-week festival will offer a mix of practical workshops, film screenings and theatre productions.

Nomvuyo Gladys Manyati coordinates Kuku Craft in Bathhurst, which employs and trains female crafters, giving them vital skills while allowing them to earn an income. Also in the Eastern Cape is Sally Scott, a full time artist and teacher, who received funding for The Red Shoe Workshop, a creative sewing project for women and youth in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth.

The NAC also supports the South African Literary Awards and initiated the First-time Published Author Award in 2009, awarded last year to Claire Robertson for her novel The Spiral House. Other legacy programmes include The Miriam Tlali Reading and Book Club, named after the literary veteran and first black South African woman to publish a novel in English, as well as the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award for writing in African languages.

Aletta de Vos of the Western Cape’s D Piano Lab was granted funding this year for her project making use of technology to provide training in music literacy and piano technique for children from marginalised communities.

In the field of dance, Nadine Joseph, artistic director and choreographer at negative entertainment, staged neither HEre nor there (and everythIng elSe) at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown thanks to NAC funding, while Tossie van Tonder received funding for her archival work, which transposed every dance theatre film and image from 1959 to 2014 into a digital format.

Within the last twelve months some of South Africa’s flagship arts organisations headed up by women have also had support from the NAC for a series of high-profile national and regional projects. These include:

  • From the Hip: Khulumakahle for its South African Sign Language (SASL) Interpreting for Theatre Project 2014/15, which aims for equal theatre access for the Deaf.
  • The Ifa Lethu Foundation provides three-phase training programmes for crafters and emerging artists in rural communities and has been funded to develop a network of creative production units in rural areas in Limpopo, the Northern Cape and the Free State.
  • Magnet Theatre Educational Trust gained funding for its touring and performance seasons in indigenous languages such as IsiXhosa and Afrikaans focusing mainly on early years theatre for pre-school and primary school children in the Western Cape.
  • Sign Language Education and Development (SLED) was awarded funding to develop a wide range of signed SASL literature for Deaf learners, including educational materials in signed poetry, children’s stories in SASL and in print, historical and contemporary biographies and SASL non-fiction.
  • The Keiskamma Trust was funded for a year-long programme clustered into three art forms – music, art and drama – leading to a production and exhibition to be showcased at the National Arts Festival.
  • The South African Book Development Council was awarded funding for a series of titles to be published in marginalised indigenous languages, while also increasing the number of black authors earning royalties.

“As an organisation the NAC is also proud to have a range of female panel members across all seven of our arts disciplines, who bring a wealth of advice and experience to our advisory process,” continued Mangope. “These include professional storyteller Nomsa Mlalose; artist Tracey Rose; actress Nakedi Ribane; arts manager and producer Nikki Froneman; academic Prof Marié-Heleen Coetzee; writer and artistic director Phyllis Klotz; dance specialist Lizelle Julie; dancer Mamela Nyamza, and craft and design experts Erica Elk, Bulelwa Bam, Jabu Gladys Dlamini and Nthabiseng Makhene.”

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